What is the Cooper Running Test and Why do it?

Karen Parnell May 30, 2022

As a triathlete you probably test your training effectiveness regularly and complete the Critical Swim Speed (CSS) time trial test for swimming, Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing for cycling and may a One-Repetition Maximum (1RM) test for strength and these will take at least an hour to complete fully. Many athletes get nervous before doing these tests and let’s be honest probably don’t look forward to them!

The good news is that there is a simple and relatively quick performance test for running and it’s called the Cooper 12-minute run test.

The Cooper 12-minute run is a popular maximal running test of aerobic fitness, in which you try and cover as much distance as they you in 12 minutes.

Why do it?

To test your aerobic fitness (the ability of your body to use oxygen to power it while you are running)

What equipment do you need?

A flat oval or running track, marker cones, recording sheets, stopwatch. Or you can use a good GPS watch like a Garmin, Polar or Wahoo Element device.

How do I do it?

Place markers at set intervals around the track to aid in measuring the completed distance. Athletes run for 12 minutes, and the total distance covered is recorded. Walking is allowed, though the athletes are encouraged to push themselves as hard as they can to maximize the distance covered.

Calculating you Score 

There are Cooper test normalised tables for general guidelines for interpreting the results of this test for adults.

There are also several equations that can be used to estimate VO2max (in ml/kg/min) from the distance score (a formula for either kms or miles):

VO2max = (35.97 x miles) – 11.29
VO2max = (22.35 x kilometres) – 11.29

But it’s easier to use the ChiliTri Cooper Test Calculator.

Who can do this Test?

The good news is that this test is great for everyone!

This test can be modified to be suitable for most populations. For those who are unfit or unable to run, there are similar walking tests that can be performed.

Cooper Test Validity

The 12-minute run fitness test was developed by Kenneth Cooper, MD, in 1968 as an easy way to measure aerobic fitness and provide an estimate of VO2 max for military personnel. So, this simple test has stood the test of time.

Cooper (1968) reported a correlation of 0.90 between VO2max and the distance covered in a 12 min walk/run.


The reliability of this test would depend on practice, pacing strategies and motivation level. There should be good reliability if these issues are addressed. After a few attempts you will get used to the test.


Large groups can be tested at once, and it is a very cheap and simple test to perform. It’s also relatively quick and very easy to understand.


Practice and pacing is required, and performance on this test can be affected greatly by motivation. For any performance test make sure you are well rested, hydrated and are not doing the test fasted (make sure your body has sufficient carbohydrate stores to call upon).

World Records

The current world record holder for 5000 meters in the men's category is Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei, with a time of 12:35.36. Based on that time he would complete 4765m or 11.91 laps in 12 minutes!

Variations and Modifications:

The test can also be conducted by running on a treadmill for 12 minutes, set to level 1 (1 percent) incline to mimic outdoor running.

There are also many variations of the walk / run test.

A very similar test is the Balke 15 minute run.

Testing is generally easier to administer when the distance is fixed and the finishing time measured, so the alternative Cooper 1.5 mile (2.4km) run test was developed.


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Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon Coach, 8020 Endurance and IRONMAN Certified Coach, WOWSA Level 3 open water swimming coach and NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. 

Need a training plan? I have plans on TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge marketplace:



8020 Polarised Training Plans

I also coach a very small number of athletes one to one for all triathlon distances, open water swimming events and running races, email me for details and availability. karen.parnell@chilitri.com






Cooper Test Infographic from ChiliTri - contact me for a PDF copy karen.parnell@chilitri.com


FAQ : The Cooper Test and why it is used to track running performance improvements

What is the Cooper Test?

The Cooper Test is a running test designed to measure an individual's aerobic fitness and estimate their VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption). It involves running as far as possible within a set time of 12 minutes.

How does the Cooper Test work?

To perform the Cooper Test, you simply run for 12 minutes and cover as much distance as you can. The total distance covered is then used to assess your aerobic fitness level.

Why is the Cooper Test used to track running performance?

The Cooper Test is commonly used for the following reasons:

  • Simplicity: The test is straightforward and can be conducted on a track, road, or any measured course. Minimal equipment is needed, making it accessible and easy to administer.
  • Measurement of aerobic fitness: The test provides an estimate of an individual's aerobic capacity or VO2 max, which is a key indicator of cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
  • Progress monitoring: By performing the Cooper Test periodically, you can track your running performance over time. Comparing your results from different tests can help evaluate improvements or identify areas for further training.
  • Goal setting: The Cooper Test can assist in setting realistic goals for running performance. By establishing a baseline and tracking progress, you can set specific targets and work towards achieving them.
  • Training intensity guidance: The results of the Cooper Test can help determine appropriate training intensities for different workouts. It provides insights into your current fitness level and assists in designing training plans tailored to your abilities.

How accurate is the Cooper Test in estimating VO2 max?

While the Cooper Test provides a useful estimation of VO2 max, it is not as precise as laboratory-based tests. The test relies on assumptions about the relationship between running performance and aerobic fitness. Factors like running economy and individual differences can affect the accuracy of the estimation.

Are there any limitations or considerations with the Cooper Test?

Yes, it's important to keep the following points in mind:

  • Individual variations: Fitness levels, running experience, and training background can influence the results. The test may be more suitable for individuals with a moderate to high fitness level.
  • Running technique: The test does not assess running form or technique. While it measures aerobic fitness, it doesn't provide insights into other aspects of running performance, such as speed, power, or agility.
  • External factors: Environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and terrain, can impact performance during the test. It's important to consider these factors and aim for consistent testing conditions.
  • Injury risk: Pushing yourself to your maximum effort during the test may increase the risk of injury, particularly if you are not adequately warmed up or if you have any underlying health concerns. Ensure proper warm-up and cool-down and listen to your body.

Can the Cooper Test be used for other sports or activities?

While the Cooper Test is primarily used for running, it can provide some insight into overall cardiovascular fitness. However, it may not be as applicable or relevant for sports that involve different movement patterns or energy systems.

Remember, the Cooper Test is just one tool among many to track running performance. It should be used in conjunction with other assessments and measures to gain a comprehensive understanding of your progress and fitness level.



The original article that describes this test: Cooper, K. H. (1968) A means of assessing maximal oxygen uptake. Journal of the American Medical Association 203:201-204.

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